May 22, 2023

In 2023, Peachtree Church is reading through the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in conjunction with the sermon series New: Rediscovering the Story and Significance of Jesus. Devotionals are sent by email three days each week. Monday’s email includes additional background, history, and cultural information to help us better understand the texts. On Tuesday and Thursday you will receive a devotional based on one portion of the texts for this week.

Text for this week

Introduction to the Texts

The Gospel of Matthew has several large sections of Jesus’ teaching, five in total.


Chapter 18 opens with the disciples asking Jesus a rather self-serving question: Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven? He does not answer them as they thought he would. He doesn’t say, “Of course, it’s you twelve loyal disciples!” Instead, he takes a little child and brings her to their attention.


Much of the teaching in Chapter 18 seems to center on that image of the little child. Jesus said that unless we become like a little child, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. NT Wright says, in his Matthew For Everyone, the child is “shy, vulnerable, unsure of herself, but trusting and with clear eyes, ready to listen, to be loved and to love, to learn and grow.”


In a world where the noisiest, angriest, strongest, most powerful people seem like winners, we see Jesus hold up a humble little child before his disciples (and us) and ask us to imitate her, as we seek the kingdom of heaven, which we can access here and now.


Especially in Jesus’ time, children were the least important, weakest and most vulnerable members of society (and this is still true in many places). Jesus reminds us here, as he did in his Beatitudes, that there is a reality beyond our own world, where life won’t be dog-eat-dog, brutal and base—where the meek, the peacemakers, the little ones will be treasured and valued. To access that life now, we must become like little children.


Jesus uses more powerful images to deter us from sin: better to lose a hand or an eye than to sin with those intact. And then he returns to those “little ones”—children and other vulnerable people, those who are easily wronged—and he tells us to what lengths our Father in Heaven will go to save one of them. He tells a parable of a shepherd who has one hundred sheep; if one goes astray, the shepherd will leave everything behind to seek it and will then rejoice more at finding the lost sheep than over those that stayed put.


Then Jesus begins to talk about resolving disputes in a fellowship, with an eye to retaining a good relationship with the offender if possible. (Maybe that is the link between the lost sheep parable and this section—that people are also worth seeking and finding if one has gone astray). He outlines a way to reconcile, first advocating a one-on-one conversation about the sin in question. If the brother or sister won’t listen, then you take one or two others with you, that they might witness the problem between the two of you. If that does not work, then the problem is shared with the fellowship, and if even that does not bring apology and resolution, then “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector,” meaning they should no longer be treated as a member of the fellowship.


Then Peter asks, “How often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Is seven times enough?” Jesus says, how about seventy-seven times?


The chapter ends with a parable showing the meaning of this command given to Peter.


We visit our grandchildren in NYC as often as we can. To see life through their eyes is so good. They offer us their love and sweetness as a gift. They want to learn and experience new things. They are full of wonder, at a new skill learned, a new word, a new sight seen and enjoyed. They forgive freely if we mess up. They embrace us and say, “I’m so glad you are here!” They are open and willing to love, learn, and forgive. It is no surprise that Jesus put a little child before the disciples and said, “If you are not like a child, you will miss out on the Kingdom of heaven.”


In a world where cynicism, brutality, and power think they are ruling, is it not refreshing to hear that Jesus values none of that, but loves the childlike wonder and trust that is somewhere inside of us still?

For Discussion

What is it about children that make them examples for an adult?

Is it easy or hard for you to find your inner child to offer to Jesus?


Dear Lord, I try to seem sophisticated and modern and intellectual. I try to seem tough and unmoved and hard-edged. But when I live like that, I am not able to enter your Kingdom; I am not able to hear your voice. Lord, find the little child inside of me, the one who trusts and loves you. Help me to watch over the little ones of this world, whom you love and value. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Rev. Vicki Franch
Pastor for Pastoral Care